WrestleMania III was the centerpiece of this period in the WWF/E's growth, as it attracted a ton of new fans like myself and set the benchmark for how a 'Mania should be executed for several years to come. The myth-makers spun some great yarns at the Pontiac Silverdome, then-home of the once-hated, then pitied, now hated again Detroit Lions. The indoor attendance record! A superstar's revenge on the man who sidelined him for months! The World Champ vs. his former friend and (literally) larger-than-life special attraction who was "undefeated for 15 years (*cough*bullshit*cough*)!" To this day, the phrase "irresistible force meets immovable object" brings memories of the main event of WrestleMania III into my brain. And then of course, there's the David vs. Goliath drama...
...Of King Kong Bundy elbowdropping a midget wrestler named Little Beaver. Ok, now you're interested, aren't you? Oh yeah you are. Let's do this.
Huh, i don't remember WrestleMania III starting with 80s smooth jazz, just like WM2, but there it is. I guess not all the bad habits got shook in this show. We open with Vinnie Mac and his trademark growl throwing it to Aretha Franklin for "America the Beautiful." I have to say, i've always appreciated the WWF/E's habit of going with "America" instead of "The Star-Spangled Banner," because frankly, it's a better song, has better lyrics, isn't about fucking war, and is tailor-made for geniuses like Ray Charles and 'Retha to just totally kill. Of course, Aretha is brilliant here in front of the 93,000 strong as we are treated to the standard montage of AMERICAN INDUSTRY. Kind of rude to show all this footage as plants are being closed in nearby Flint, but whatever, it's about keeping up appearances.
Gorilla Monsoon welcomes us to the broadcast booth, accompanied by Jesse "The Body" Ventura, Mary Hart (no relation), and--you know what time it is, Matt Wild--BOB FUCKING UECKER. "I tell ya Gorilla, this is unbelievable! I feel like i'm back in the World Series! I didn't play in the last one, but i'm a player today!" He's just getting warmed up, folks; give him a few minutes and a few less filling, great tasting Miller Lites, and he'll be good. Mary Hart makes a reference to how pumped Jesse's Body is, and the electricity is so thick you can cut it with a knife. Ah, Gorilla, you are missed. TO THE ACTION!
Match 1: The Can-Am Connection (Rick Martel and Tom Zenk) vs. Bob Orton & Magnificent Muraco (w/Mr. Fuji)
The Can-Am Connection were the precursor to future WWF Tag Team Champs Strike Force, a team formed when (former AWA World Champ and future "Model") Rick Martel traded up to Tito Santana, banishing Tom Zenk to a career of being known as "The Z-Man" in the NWA/WCW ("ok, man, here's your gimmick. Are you ready? This is going to earn you dozens of dollars. Your name starts with a Z!"). Magnificent Muraco is resplendent in a white thermal pullover. No expense spared in ring attire here.
An early collar-elbow tie-up sees Muraco push Martel away and break into an early bout of flexing and displaying his alpha-male status to the Can-Ams. Martel, in full babyface mode, grimly nods and concedes that, yes, Muraco, you are a very muscular man, and i shall do my best to slay you despite these long odds or whatever. Once things get going there's an exchange where Martel attempts to leapfrog Muraco, gets caught on Muraco's shoulders, and then manages to execute a primitive and clunky version of a hurricanrana, which Gorilla acknowledges by saying "oh! He turned that into...a nice maneuver." Good recovery, Gorilla. That's why they call you "The Professor." (They don't call Gorilla Monsoon "The Professor.") I also absolutely love that during this tag team match, there's instant discussion between Gorilla and Jessie about how the Can-Ams are angling for a title shot against the current champs, the Hart Foundation. There's some emphasis on the importance of titles that you just do not get as much of these days.
Ha! Gorilla refers to Tom Zenk's armdrag on Bob Orton as "excellence of execution," as that phrase has not been exclusively handed to Bret Hart yet. This match is pretty much an opening-match showcase for the technical skillz of Martel and Zenk, as the Can-Ams dominate several opening minutes with quick tags and double-team choreography until Orton sneaks in a swift kick from the apron to Zenk's back during a bounce off the ropes. Orton tags in and goes to work but this match only has about five minutes to work, so the heels don't get much advantage before Martel gets the hot tag from Zenk. The match degenerates to your typical four-man brawl until Orton gets dropkicked out of the ring and the Can-Ams execute a cute-for-1987 double-team on Muraco where Martel cross-bodyblocks the Magnificent one while Zenk, on his hands and knees, trips Muraco from behind, leading to the 1-2-3. "Girls in Cars" plays as the victorious team celebr--wait, there's no music, because this isn't Strike Force yet. OK, let's hold off on having theme music for every wrestler until the early 90s somewhere, but we'll get Martel his cheesy soft rock theme once he gets paired up with Tito. (Don't worry, i'll post the YouTube during the next recap. It's some stuff.) Jesse protests the rampant double-teaming at the end of the match, setting the tone for an entire broadcast of picking out every possible rule-bend by a babyface while excusing everything the heels do, because Jesse "The Body" kicks ass.
Winners: The Can-Am Connection via pinfall at 5:37
Gorilla throws to a video recap of the feud between Hercules Hernandez (now shortened to just "Hercules") and Billy Jack Haynes, which is an old throwback feud based around which dude can apply the full nelson better than the other. Ah, 1987, when the full nelson was considered a feared submission hold. Simpler times, y'all. ooh, interview time!
Bobby "The Brain" Heenan (who is all over this PPV, by the way, which is a glorious thing) insists that Herc's opponent is "Billy Jerk Haynes" while Hercules rants about how he will make Haynes cower "just like thousands of years ago when i made Atlas and Samson cower at my feet." Huh, this is an interesting evolution in Herc's character, turning him into a psychotic who apparently believes he's a demigod but can't keep his mythologies straight. Which book of the Bible does Samson fight Hercules in? The one where Thor and Loki tag-team against Ra and Osiris? And why the hell wasn't that ever a Sega Genesis fighting game?
Match 2: Billy Jack Haynes vs. Hercules (w/Bobby "The Brain" Heenan)
This is ostensibly a match to determine the master of the full nelson, but it's a standard match where pins, DQ, and countouts are ways to win. OK, sure. Billy Jack is in the ring wearing a gold lame' jacket with the letters "BJ" on it, and suddenly i'm 13 years old again. Herc and Heenan are the first to come down the aisle in the signature WMIII mini-ring carriages that created so many amazing visuals during this event, as we shall demonstrate later through the art of smartphone photography.
This is power vs. power, pretty much. BJ (heh) Haynes, Portland wrestling legend, is maybe bigger and more ripped than Herc, and he pops the crowd early with a press-slam. Great work by Gorilla and Jesse as they emphasize the damage Herc is doing to BJ's back through a series of whips into the turnbuckle and vertical suplexes. "You have to soften the back up before you try a move like the full nelson." Even as a kid, the commentary really made this match for me, as it became all about who could put the full nelson on the other guy, and how every move is a setup to get that hold locked in. Herc even picks BJ up off the mat on purpose after a two-count because he wants to beat BJ with the nelson. Wrestling psychology--how novel in these trying times!
After Gorilla and Jesse argue a bit over the folly of picking a guy up off the mat at 2 ("The name of the game is 'win,' Jess." "Well, not always, Gorilla--sometimes it's punish, then win"), Herc gets the full nelson locked in, but he doesn't have his fingers locked together behind BJ's head. BJ fights back and breaks the hold, eventually fighting back and stunning Herc with a clothesline and an inverse atomic drop. BJ locks in the full nelson, but he doesn't have the fingers locked either! Both men tumble out of the ring, and BJ locks in the nelson outside on the floor, leading to a double-countout.
Man, as a kid, Gorilla and Jesse hammering home the whole "the fingers aren't locked" thing had me convinced that you could win a match just by putting on a full nelson and locking the fingers, whether or not your opponent actually submitted. "Your winner, by correctly locking in a wrestling hold--Billy Jack Haynes!" Anyway, Heenan gets in a cheap shot, which BJ no-sells and uses as an excuse to chase Heenan around the ring. He ends up in the ring and is met with a chain to the face, courtesy Hercules. After a few shots to BJ's face with the chain, Haynes is busted open, Herc throws on the full nelson, and the crowd boos their disapproval. Meanwhile, Jesse ponders where Haynes found all this time to bleed (it's 1987 and Jesse's voice is on my screen--FUCK YOU I'M MAKING PREDATOR JOKES FOR DAYS).
Winner - double-countout at 7:53
Match 3: Hillbilly Jim, Haiti Kid & Little Beaver vs. King Kong Bundy, Lord Littlebrook, & Little Tokyo
*Sigh* OK. Man. First, let's discuss how King Kong Bundy was in last year's main event, and has been dropped so far down the card that now he's in the sideshow comedy match a year later. Gee, i can't imagine why he left the company within a year after this. (Also, he had a Richard Pryor movie to shoot, so there's that whole thing. Everyone talks about the movies Piper and Ventura were in from '87-'88, and they never talk about Bundy's classic turn here. Unfair.)
Bundy does an interview in the back where he yells about how he wants Hillbilly Jim the most, but if any of the midgets get in his way, he'll squash 'em. Gorilla: "Wow, King Kong Bundy, looking to squash some midgets." Jesse: "Absolutely." Will guest announcer Uecker be able to salvage the commentary on this match?
Little Beaver is in a tiny Native American headdress, because his gimmick is that he's an Injun, but smaller. The Haiti Kid's gimmick is that he's from Haiti, so he's black, but he's also a midget. Little Tokyo? See, he's a Japanese midget. It goes on like this.
Uecker says he couldn't hang with the midgets because he wouldn't want his kneecaps rearranged, while Jesse says that he hopes he gets to see Bundy put the big kibosh on one of them. While Monsoon is distracted by that comment, Uecker spots Little Beaver punching Bundy in the gut, because Mr. Baseball is an expert broadcast journalist. Bundy says, "oh, fuckin' yeah?" and demands to be tagged in, and now it's Bundy looming over Little Beaver as the midget decides how to handle this. He dashes between Bundy's legs, hits a dropkick that does nothing, and dashes to his corner to tag Hillbilly Jim. Oh, shit, not Hillbilly Jim. Put Beaver back in; at least he can dropkick.
Sure enough, Beaver starts running into the ring to lay in some useless cheap shots that just serve to annoy Bundy even more. Jesse: "Now i think that if Beaver's gonna run around and cheap shot Bundy, then Bundy has every right to lay a hand on him. What do you think, Ueck?" "I think there's a lot of Beaver all over this place." God bless you, Ueck--here i was, struggling to figure out where i was gonna fit a poontang joke into this recap, and you did it for me. You are the man.
So, yeah, finally Beaver runs in one too many times, Bundy bodyslams him and hits an elbow, and fine--it's fucking hilarious. Whaddya gonna do? This whole match was a setup for King Kong Bundy squashing the fuck out of a little dude, and it looks awesome. Sue me.
This is the only animated gif i can find of this, and it leaves out the elbowdrop. Fucking bullshit.
Garbage match, but whatever. It is cute that the heel midgets immediately turn on Bundy after he fucks up their fellow little person, though. Solidarity, i guess. OK, can i stop talking about this now?
OK, fine, wait. Uecker explains how he would have countered the elbow: "I mighta went for a stepover toe-hold when he dropped on me and come out the other side and hooked his nostril with a big toe and then go to rippin', and that'll get him right outta there." Less filling! Tastes great!
Winners: Team Hilbilly by DQ after Bundy mashes some Beaver in 4:23. Son of a bitch.
Oh, thank Christ, it's time for Mary Hart (no relation) to try to interview Elizabeth. As soon as she puts the mic near Liz's face, Randy Savage comes barging in. "OOOOH YEAH you must be fascinated with the Macho Man! I'll answer all your questions one by one, go ahead." Mary Hart protests, of course, and the Macho Man, Intercontinental Heavyweight Champion that he is, is bemused that she would rather talk to Elizabeth. Eventually he yells at Liz to head Down That Aisle, and as they bail, Macho Man yells back at Mary Hart, "my phone number's on the back of my license plate!" "You're a real charm!" Hart calls after him. Awesome. Why the hell is his phone number on the back of his license plate?
Match 4: "King" Harley Race (w/Bobby Heenan & The Fabulous Moolah) vs. Junkyard Dog ("loser must bow" match)
And now we get to bear witness to the spectacle of Harley Race, the grizzled master veteran and eight-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion--the man who put a $25,000 bounty on Ric Flair's head--reduced to running around the WWF in a robe and crown as the "King of Wrestling," because he had the temerity to ask Vince McMahon for a job after years of working for the competition. Not even Bobby Heenan and Moolah can save this indignity. However, Uecker salvages all of this by freaking out about Moolah. "It's Moolah! No wonder you guys are here all the time! The moon is full and so am i! I've gotta get with Moolah!" Uecker bails from the booth. Dude has a raging boner for Moolah. Man, to be at the dinner table for the double date with those two, Mark Henry and Mae Young.
Harley Race comes out to what is now Jerry Lawler's theme music. That shit's been around for almost 30 years now. Man, i have to give Handsome Harley props in this match: sure, he's all Grimace'd out in purple and is forced to mince around like an asshole calling himself the "King of Wrestling," but the motherfucker is bumping like a fiend for JYD. At one point he sells a shot to the head by staggering back five feet, flipping 360 degrees over the top rope like a spinning baton, and faceplanting on the apron as he crashes to the floor. Jesus, it's great. Holy shit, JYD puts on an abdominal stretch! A wrestling hold! Sure, Race hiplocks out of it, but it's still a pleasant surprise! Race eventually pins JYD cleanly with a belly-to-belly suplex, and Gorilla grasps at straws, saying that JYD was distracted by Heenan on the apron. Whatever--JYD has to bow before the eight-time World Champ. He curtsies, finally bows, then grabs Race's chair and crowns Race in the head with it to the delight of the crowd. Jesse correctly protests that the JYD is a sore loser as Gorilla lays on some more bullshit about how Harley didn't win fair & square, even though the pinfall was perfectly clean. Jesus, no wonder Jesse is always playing devil's advocate for the heels. Monsoon's pretty shameless here.
I will say this: for the throwaway match this is, it's not worked terribly. There's even a little spot where Race hits his trademark falling headbutt and it's made plainly obvious that headbutting JYD is about the dumbest fucking thing you can do to him. Great little spot in a puddle of cartoony bullshit. I'm being very forgiving because i still feel bad for Harley Race, although, really, i suppose the dude spent his entire NWA run dressed like a used car salesman, so it stands to reason that he'd make a lateral move to new & used appliances over at King Cash Cow's Crazy Consoles.
1983: "Come on down to the used car lot and i'll give you $25,000 for your trade-in if you also kill Ric Flair!"
1987: "If you can find anyone in the tri-county area with cheaper prices on air conditioning, i'll abdicate the throne! BOW DOWN TO SAVINGS"
Winner: Harley Race via completely clean pinfall in 3:22
Back to the men's locker room, where Vince McMahon is
Match 5: The Rougeau Brothers vs. The Dream Team (Greg Valentine & Brutus Beefcake) (w/Johnny Valiant and Dino Bravo)
Holy shit, were the Rougeaus ever interesting? They were ok in the ring, i guess, but it wasn't until they started their smarmy fake "We French Canadians love America, no really!" gimmick that anyone even remotely gave a shit. Then, when they used Jacques as "The Mountie" to bridge the Intercontinental Title from Bret Hart to Roddy Piper, they had to make up a bullshit story about Bret wrestling with a 105 degree fever, because the WWF realized how damaging it would be to Bret's character to lose cleanly to the fucking Mountie. So yeah, these fuckin' guys.
Gorilla does his best to get the Rougeaus over, while Jesse shrugs out a "yeah, they're very good," and you can cut his ambivalence with a knife. Amazing. The Rougeaus start things off with a double dropkick on Brutus, who immediately and thankfully tags to Greg Valentine, who takes control after a missed flying bodypress from Jacques. Valentine slaps on a figure four and suddenly Bobby Heenan is in the broadcast booth crowing about how he's two for two on the day so far: Billy Jerk Haynes didn't beat Hercules and they delivered a beatdown after the match, and Harley Race beat JYD. Gorilla fires back that he's actually one for three: Herc didn't technically win his match, and King Kong Bundy, another of Heenan's charges, lost. "I wasn't out there for that one. I don't deal with midgets. I don't like midgets." Hrm, was there a match going on? Oh yeah, Raymond Rougeau has a sleeperhold on Valentine. Beefcake tries to jump off the ropes to break the hold, but Raymond releases it first and Brutus crashes into his partner. Whoops. Valentine gets placed on Raymond's shoulders, and oh shit, is it gonna be a flying clothesline, Road Warriors-style? Erm, actually, Jacques connects with a flying dick to Valentine's face, and yeah, i wouldn't get up after that either. Gah.
However! The ref gets distracted by Jacques fighting with Beefcake in the corner, allowing Dino Bravo to jump off the top rope and break up Raymond's pin on Valentine. Bravo pulls The Hammer on top of Raymond, and the Dream Team wins, no thanks to Beefcake. In fact, Valiant, Bravo, and Valentine feel the same way, yelling at Beefcake for almost costing them the match, and getting back into the mini-ring cart without him, telling him to sod off the whole time. 'Bout time, really--Valentine doesn't need that dead weight. I love how Dino Bravo keeps doing the family-friendly "up yours" gesture that involves pumping the fist in a motion that would otherwise have a middle finger extended. He may be a heel, but he's a heel that's safe for children.
Winner: Greg Valentine (assist by Dino Bravo) via pinfall in 4:04
Another recap! This time we get a quick capsule of the "Adorable" Adrian Adonis/Roddy Piper feud. One thing WMIII completely nailed was establishing a storyline for nearly every match on the card, something WWE fails at these days. Sure, in 1987 there were a whopping 2 PPVs, and now there's one a month, but that's less of an excuse for the writers and more evidence of there being too many flippin' PPVs. Basically, Adonis and Piper trashed each other's interview show sets and got into a bunch of brawls leading up to 'Mania. At one point, Adrian uses a huge bug spray container to spray perfume into Piper's eyes at ringside, predating "The Model" Rick Martel's use of "Arrogance" perfume in every damn match of his. It's super fun to see how certain gimmicks and phrases ("excellence of execution") evolved into becoming money-makers for completely different wrestlers.
Roddy blasts out a quick promo about how he's not going to lose his retirement match to a guy wearing a dress. He's a babyface now, so he doesn't go full-on offensive like he did with Mr. T at WM2, so that's something. Hot Rod needs to take a hiatus to go make They Live, which is a perfectly noble reason for "retiring." At the time, 13-year-old me was super bummed that i completely missed the boat on Roddy Piper, but was stoked when he started wrestling again in 1991. I was less stoked when he started wrestling in non-title cage matches against Hulk Hogan in WCW during the nWo's peak.
Match 6: "Adorable" Adrian Adonis (w/Jimmy Hart) vs. "Rowdy" Roddy Piper (retirement match for Piper and a hair vs. hair match - the loser gets his head shaved)
Let's give Jimmy Hart some credit here--he's from Memphis and despite whatever Suhthuhn values he was raised with, he still has the open-mindedness to take on a transvestite as a client. Adonis comes out with hedge clippers, brandishing them as a threat to Piper's head. This is important foreshadowing i'm dropping here. Piper hits the ring and starts the match off by whipping Adrian with his belt. Wait, is this no-DQ as well? After he goes after Jimmy Hart, Adonis gets hold of the belt and begins whipping Piper, and now Gorilla is calling for the ref to do his job. "What about Piper? He did it first!" "He didn't do it nearly this long, Jess." "That's because he lost the belt! You think if he still had the belt he wouldn't still be usin' it?" Amazing how much more sense the heel announcer is making than the straight man.
After the belt spots, Piper starts using Jimmy Hart as a prop, whipping him into Adonis and sending them both out of the ring, then throwing Hart off the top rope and onto his opponent. Eventually, Hart gets out of the ring and trips up Piper in retaliation while the ref's back is turned. Jesse sagely points out that Hart is just retaliating for his abuse at the hands of Piper. The tide turns and Adonis is in control, delivering elbows and fists that have "all those 300-plus pounds behind them," according to Gorilla, who apparently missed that Adonis weighed in at 290-something. Piper starts to fight back and Hart hits him with the perfume, leading to Adonis' trademark "Goodnight Irene" sleeperhold while Hart triumphantly waves the hedge clippers (MORE FORESHADOWING). Piper fades, but Adrian releases the hold early, and Piper's arm fails to drop for three times in submission! Cockiness is always a heel's potential downfall. Adonis and Hart celebrate as the ref tries to explain that the match isn't over, and--what's this?--Brutus Beefcake runs into the ring, shakes Piper and gets him back awake and into the match! The crowd goes wild and Beefcake has turned full-on babyface! Now if only he had some sort of wacky gimmick that would really get him over with the crowd...
As Piper disposes of Hart, Adonis tries to bash him over the head with the hedge clippers, but Piper dodges and the clippers don't so much bounce off the ropes and hit Adonis in the face, as much as Adonis obviously pulls them back into his own face and sells mad stupid pain. It looks awful, but it leads to Piper putting the sleeperhold on Adonis, whose arms drop three times, and Piper wins! Beefcake gets the honors of shaving Adonis' head, and Brutus "The Barber" is born. So, Beefcake's signature gimmick and finishing move (the sleeper) were both stolen from a match he wasn't officially involved in. I can't decide if that's sad or amazing.
After Adonis comes to, sees what's been done to his beautiful flowing bleached mane, and hi-tails it out of the ring with Hart, Howard Finkel announces, "the winner of this bout--in his farewell match--'Rowdy' Roddy Piper!" It's all very sweet and touching, and really meant something back before we all discovered that wrestlers stay retired about as often as comic book characters stay dead. Roddy is congratulated by...is that a fan that ran into the ring? I have no idea. He's not acknowledged, so probably, although i don't see security commencing to beating the shit out of him. "The last time we will ever see Piper inside the squared circle," Monsoon says. It's a tragedy that Gorilla lived long enough to see that Halloween Havoc cage match in '97.
Winner: Roddy Piper by submission in 6:14; Brutus Beefcake via acquisition of doofy new gimmick
Mary Hart (no relation) and Ueck rejoin Gorilla in the broadcast booth, as Ventura has demanded that he be introduced at ringside to take in the adoration of the 93,000 strong in the Silverdome. Finkel announces him as "the man who allegedly tells it like it is," and Jesse nearly blows a gasket at the word "allegedly." Careful, Jesse--we don't want you to get worked up and have anything happen to those sweet earrings you're wearing. What the hell are those, Swiss cheese? You're not in Wisconsin. Oh, wait, maybe they're...i dunno, like a fruit-filled confection or something? I give up; you tell me:
Also, is that a USB drive?
Jesse high fives the men in the ring as Gorilla plugs Jesse's upcoming movie, Predator, opening June 5. Those men in the ring? Jimmy Hart's back along with the current WWF World Tag Team Champions, The Hart Foundation, and "Dangerous" Danny Davis.
Match 7: The Hart Foundation and "Dangerous" Danny Davis (w/Jimmy Hart) vs. The British Bulldogs and Tito Santana, who needed to be on the show somewhere, i guess
Little things that show my age as a wrestling fan: when most fans think of the classic "crooked referee" trope, they think of WCW/nWo ref Nick Patrick. I think of "Dangerous" Danny Davis, the crooked ref who helped the Harts win the tag belts from the British Bulldogs. After he was fired as a ref by WWF President Jack Tunney, he began wrestling in black and white striped tights, which is just an awesome sort of "fuck you" to the company that apparently was perfectly willing to write him a paycheck for wrestling after compromising the integrity of his employer through biased officiating. Wrestling logic! Davis is also wearing a ref-striped suit coat with a sheriff's star on it. Good stuff. Monsoon points out that Davis has been suspended from refereeing "for life plus ten years," just in case zombie Danny Davis applies for a ref's license. This is one of Davis' first matches, apparently, which is a not-so-minor plot point.
The Bulldogs and Santana come down to the ring with MATILDA THE BULLDOG. YAY. Matilda clears the ring of the heels, because she is a GOOD DOG. Mary Hart (no relation), by the way, is far more accomplished on commentary than any of the celebrity ladies on the mic at WM2. "It's a free for all outside of the ring! How can this be possible?" Nice throw to Gorilla explaining that the match had not yet started, Mary. A+ for effort! Jesse leaves the ringside area with Matilda, which is the most dastardly heel move of the entire PPV. BOO HISS, JESSE.
Now we get to see Stampede Wrestling's finest, the Harts and the Bulldogs, work together, with occasional interruptions from Tito Santana and maybe Danny Davis. Well, this will be fun. Mary Hart explains that she's not related to Jimmy or Bret (see?) as Dynamite and Davey Boy deliver a double headbutt to Jim Neidhart. As the Hart Foundation takes control and cuts the ring in half with various double-teams, the announcers speculate about whether Davis has any wrestling skills to speak of. Eventually, with Dynamite Kid prone on the mat, Davis tags in, kicks Dynamite in the head twice, then tags out to Bret, strutting onto the ring apron very proud of the scientific prowess he has just displayed.
The heels get cocky, though! The Harts use Davis as a weapon and slingshot him into the ring for a splash on Dynamite, but the Kid gets his knees up! The Harts hilariously celebrate on the apron as Davis writhes in pain, until Bret turns around and mouths, "what happened?" Hot tag to Tito as Santana unloads on the ref who officiated his Intercontinental Title loss to Randy Savage over a year ago (OK, A: now it makes sense why Tito is in this match, and B: Man, wrestling writers had long memories back then. It's a minor miracle that WrestleMania XXX's feature matches have storylines that date back as far as the last SummerSlam). The fans go absolutely mental as Tito unloads, hitting a flying forearm and then foregoing a pin attempt in order to try to wreck Davis' face with his fists. The fans are keenly aware of the "Davis screwed Santana" storyline, because they smell blood. Santana teases the figure four leglock until Neidhart interrupts. Tito tags out to Davey Boy, and now it's the Bulldogs' turn to get revenge. Man, they are fucking Davis up. Davey hits a brutal front piledriver and drops Davis right on his fuggin' head, and Davis sells it beautifully. Davey makes a show of not going for the pin, though, picking Davis up to continue with the fuck-uppery. Man, didn't the Bulldogs learn anything when they benefitted from Greg Valentine doing the same thing to them at last year's big show? Vertical suplex and Danny Davis is a rag doll, completely limp and letting the Bulldogs do pretty much anything they want.
After a powerslam, Davey Boy finally tries a pin and it's broken up again by Neidhart, and everyone storms the ring for the traditional tag team schmozz before the finish. Eventually with the ref distracted by the melee, Davis grabs Jimmy Hart's megaphone, brains Davey Boy, with it, and because one shot with a foreign object is equivalent to five minutes of punishing legal offense according to The Big Book of Wrestling Physics, Davis gets the pinfall and the win. Classic chickenshit heel booking. Gotta love it, even if the crowd is pissed. Danny is helped backstage by all three Harts because he can barely walk, even though he's pumping his fists in triumph. Gold.
Winners: The Hart Foundation and Danny Davis via cheating-ass pinfall in 8:52
We go now to a killer interview segment with Mean Gene, Bobby Heenan, and a stone silent Andre the Giant. Having never watched Andre as the gentle, fun-loving giant with the wide grin, it must have been really chilling to watch Andre stand completely still and stone-faced, Not a single flicker of emotion crossing his eyes as Heenan tells Hogan that he's had three good years as champ, but it's over, because Hogan's never faced a man as big, as strong, as heavy, and with the burning desire to be champion as Andre the Giant. Geez, the match itself may have been clunky, but the hype is hitting on all cylinders. This is marketing at its finest, every actor playing his role to perfection. Andre here, by standing completely still and making no expression, is fucking terrifying.
Match 8: "The Natural" Butch Reed (w/Slick) vs. Koko B. Ware
I was just about to say that i can't imagine anything in this match being worth recapping, but then Jesse says that he hears that parrots like Koko's mascot Frankie make good soup, and i'm cracking up over here. He also gives an unexpected shout-out to Barry Blaustein, the comedy writer who later directed the documentary Beyond the Mat. Well, that's random. Apparently this is the match Blaustein was most looking forward to, which calls into question Barry's wrestling expertise.
CLASSIC WRESTLING RACISM NOTE: After Howard Finkel announces Koko B. Ware, Ventura tells Monsoon, "you know, the 'B' stands for 'Buckwheat.'"
Yeah, not too much to report here. It's actually a fairly action-packed three minutes thanks to Koko's high-flying dropkicks, bodypresses, and various other arial maneuvers (and the multiple shots of Frankie the bird are most welcome. What a cutie), but eventually Butch Reed gets the pin, catching Koko midair and rolling him up with a handful of tights. The celebration is cut short, though, by Tito Santana storming the ring to attack Slick and rip off his most excellent olive-green suit. Gorilla sort of explains that Slick's cracked Tito with his cane before, so i guess i'll accept that. Whatever.
Winner: Butch Reed via pinfall at 3:39
Match 9: Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat (w/George "The Animal" Steele) vs. Randy "Macho Man" Savage (w/Elizabeth) for the WWF Intercontinental Championship
Well, here we are. This is the match that defined WrestleMania for years, the classic title tussle between the two best athletes in the WWF at the time. The storyline is set up in the recap: during a contest the preceding November, Savage used the ring barricade and timekeeper's bell to "crush" Steamboat's larynx and knock him out of wrestling until January, which doesn't seem to be a lot of time to fully recover from your larynx being crushed, but that's not important. What's important is revenge. We cut to an outstanding rant from Savage. "OOOH YEAH! The 'Macho Man' Randy Savage, Intercontinental Heavyweight Champion, was in a state of shock when Ricky Steamboat came back. But this time, in front of the largest audience in the world, i will not only embarrass you; i will not only pin you with the 1-2-3 count; but i'm gonna put you out of wrestling for good. Oooh yeah, Dragon, i am the lord and master of the ring, and you're gonna find that out, one athlete to another, RIGHT NOW! History beckons the Macho Man, yeah!" Holy shit fuckballs awesome.
The crowd goes apeshit (assuming the crowd noise hasn't been sweetened in post) for the guy who is second only to Hulk Hogan in popularity at this point, Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat, who is ready to fucking go. Tons of inches have been written about this match over the years, but i'll try to keep up. The action starts with two of Steamboat's trademark deep armdrags, and a lift of Savage into the air for a vicious choke. Steamboat sending a message to Savage early--he's looking for payback for the larynx. Early domination by Steamboat with a nasty wristlock that lifts Savage into the air, but eventually Savage connects with an elbow after he grabs Steamboat's hair, and a toss outside of the ring gets Savage some boos from the audience. Savage yanks Steamboat onto the apron and connects with an elbow to the throat, and it's established early that Randy's looking to do exactly what he said in the interview: end Steamboat's career. A two-count and then a sick-looking kneedrop to Steamboat's throat delivers another two-count.
This match is filled with several high-speed two-count sequences that contribute to the drama. If i remember correctly, Pro Wrestling Illustrated counted 19 two-counts in the match, 11 by Steamboat (i could be off). But there's also a distinct lack of rest holds, since Savage and Steamboat had painstakingly choreographed the match in the weeks leading up to the event. No need to call spots in the ring = precious few rest holds. There are a few breaks where Steamboat gets tossed from the ring, but they serve more as brief breathers between dazzling high-action sequences.
Eventually Savage starts attacking Steamboat while he's outside, connecting with his top-rope double-axehandle to the stadium floor, hitting a second axehande inside the ring. He hits a nasty running elbow, a guillotine of Steamboat's neck over the top rope, an atomic drop, and a clothesline, getting a two-count after every move. After the clothesline, Gorilla busts out some of the most ridiculous pontificating of his career, saying Savage is risking disqualification by constantly attacking the Dragon's neck.
"Savage better watch out with that clothesline, he could get disqualified."
"Why? It's a perfectly legal move!"
"Of course it's deliberate. What do you think, he fell into it by accident?"
"No, but it's a deliberate attempt to put someone out of action." Oooooo-kay, Gorilla. The more i hear his delivery during these WrestleManias, the more i start to wonder if our collective sense of nostalgia is overrating our memory of his commentary just a smidge.
Savage continues to pull every move out of his repertoire, hitting vertical and gutwrench suplexes for more two-counts. Steamboat fights back with some chops (missing from the crowd in 1987: the requisite "WOOOOOOO!"s that are prevalent in audiences these days during chop sequences), but puts his head down and gets kicked in the head. A desperation backdrop over the top rope and Savage goes reeling to the delight of the throng. Steamboat throws Savage back in the ring and The Dragon hits a flying chop from the top rope. He goes for the cover and the ref, Dave Hebner, counts two, although the sound of the ref hitting the mat and then slapping it twice makes the crowd think he's counted three. They go completely mental as Hebner waves off the pin, signaling two because Savage got a foot on the rope. Totally accidental false finish but still a brilliant one, as the crowd is going crazy. Another two-count and Savage gets chopped out of the ring. Savage comes back in and gets sunset flipped for a two-count and it's time for an exhausting sequence of attempted pins. Double-leghook flip! Small package! All for two! Steamboat rolls up Savage with a bounce off the ropes, and Savage grabs the tights and flips Steamboat over for a two-count of his own! I can't keep up!
Eventually Savage and Steamboat fight to Irish whip someone into a corner, reversing the whip three times before a collision takes out Dave Hebner with one of his signature pratfalls. No one--no one--takes a ref bump like the Hebner brothers. Those two faceplant on a level not seen outside Ric Flair or Greg Valentine. And now it's time for Savage to deliver some serious damage. A clothesline on the Dragon leads to Savage's signature finishing move, the flying elbow. He connects and covers for the three, but there's no ref to count, so Savage bails from the ring and grabs the timekeeper's bell, climbing to the top rope ostensibly to murder the fuck out of Ricky Steamboat. However, George "The Animal" Steele makes the save, grabbing the bell and running for it for about three feet before Savage punks him out and grabs the bell back. He climbs again, but this time, Steele knocks him off the top rope and onto the mat, the bell landing harmlessly to the canvas. Savage picks up Steamboat for a bodyslam and gets rolled into a small package just in time for Hebner to recover enough to hit the one...two...three. The crowd goes full nuclear as Steamboat's hand is raised in victory. Jesse Ventura angrily protests the interference from Steele (but not the attempted use of the bell) as The Animal flips his shit with the Dragon. New champ!
Winner: Ricky Steamboat via pinfall to win the IC Title in 14:36
Putting this match into historical perspective, is it the greatest match in the history of WrestleMania? Well, not any more. Steamboat/Savage is remembered fondly because it took place in an era where by and large, the WWF was producing lots of bullshit in the ring, focusing more on characters and storylines. Steamboat's NWA World Title series with Flair just two years later produced at least one match that equalled this, and two that surpassed it. And future 'Manias will produce the classic Bret Hart/Steve Austin submission match, the Shawn Michaels/Ric Flair retirement match, and a gaggle of insane Undertaker streak matches that produce more raw drama. But is this match overrated? Hell no. There's isn't a single blown spot in the match, each wrestler showcases their moveset with rapid-fire precision, and you're not going to see many more finely-crafted stories told in the course of a wrestling match. Every shot Savage delivers to Steamboat's throat makes the crowd shudder, and every two-count gets them on their feet. It's poetry, and nearly 30 years later it still holds up. Plus, the pose of utter dejection and despair Savage strikes as he is carted away from the ring is absolutely heartbreaking, even as you're cheering the babyface's victory:
That's some iconic shit right there. You ever see Big Show or Cody Rhodes reacting like that when they lose the Intercontinental Title? No, you do not.
Match 10: The Honky Tonk Man (w/Jimmy Hart) vs. Jake "The Snake" Roberts (w/Alice Fucking Cooper)
Protip: If you want Alice Cooper to look as thin as cocaine will permit before death, stand him next to pro wrestlers. Apparently Honky Tonk Man (still very early on in his WWF run) bashed his guitar over Jake's head during an interview segment, and now there's a score to settle. Sure, why not? Any excuse to see Jake in action. Jake cuts a pretty standard even-keel-but-creepily-sinister Jake Roberts promo and then Alice awkwardly squeezes in a reference to Detroit as his hometown, and "the hometown of heavy metal." If you all could do me a solid and make sure that 1987 Alice Cooper never finds out about Kid Rock and Insane Clown Posse, i'd appreciate that.
Speaking of rock 'n' roll, The Honky Tonk man and "Colonel" Jimmy Hart are backstage with Mean Gene, and Honky is strumming his guitar in his standard tuneless "i do not have the slightest clue how to operate this piece of wood" manner. Honky Tonk knows there are 93,000 people who are waiting to hear the Honky Tonk Man sing, dance, and sing his latest hit "That's All Right Honky Tonk Mama." They most assuredly do not want to hear some "nightmare song by Alice Cooper." Honky Tonk was always best when he had the mic in his face and he was threatening to sing for everyone.
This match pretty much ends up serving as a method of getting Honky Tonk over as a chickenshit heel while making Jake look great. Jake dominates early, attacking Honky while he still has his Elvis jumpsuit on. Honky never had any offense, but he excelled at taking a beating and make his opponents look like a million bucks, which he does here. Jake hits a short clothesline and signals for the DDT, but Honky bails to the floor as Damien is poking around in his sack. Jake follows and ends up getting rammed into the ring barricade for his trouble, having to be helped back into the ring by Alice. Jesse calls attention to the fact that once again, someone at ringside in a support capacity is assisting their wrestler, and Gorilla agrees that he should only be there as an observer, which is completely contrary to how much he was covering up for George "The Animal" Steele in the previous match.
Back in the ring, Honky Tonk hits a kick and a Jerry Lawler-style flying fist drop from the turnbuckle, and he's softening Jake up for his "Shake, Rattle & Roll" finisher, which entails him shaking his ass before hitting a routine swinging neckbreaker. In the grand pantheon if horseshit finishing moves, it's not quite as lame as the Rock's People's Elbow, but it's way up there. He tries to hit it, but Jake backdrops out of it and the momentum starts flowing The Snake's way. Jake pummels and pounds Honky with lefts & rights until Honky does one of his signature maneuvers--getting on his knees and begging off the babyface. "Please don't hurt me anymore, mean Mr. Snake Person! I will change my evil ways!" Honky was garbage as an offensive wrestler, but it sort of made him a tremendous heel. Jake hits a backdrop, which leads to a doofy sequence where Honky is sitting in the ropes like a rocking chair, bouncing back up every time Jake punches him, and then it's finally time for the DDT, which Jimmy Hart thwarts by grabbing Jake's leg. Honky takes advantage of the distraction and rolls up Jake, grabbing the top rope for leverage to score the 1-2-3. Jake grabs Honky Tonk's $12 balsa-wood prop guitar and tries to smash it over Honky's head, but Honky bails for the locker room and the guitar is vaporized against the ring post.
Of course, this leaves Jimmy Hart to the mercy of Roberts and Alice. Jake's got Jimmy in a full nelson while Alice gets Damien out of his sack. Jimmy is about to have a heart attack as Damien gets draped over his body. Jimmy pees and is dragged out of the ring by a returning Honky Tonk Man, and both take a powder. Alice pumps his Jim-Henson's-Alice-Cooper-Babies-sized arm in victory.
Winner: The Honky Tonk Man w/rope leverage in 7:05
Mean Gene enters the ring to announce that the WWF has set a world indoor attendance record of 93,173. Well, that's just dynamite.
Match 11: Nikolai Volkoff and The Iron Sheik (w/Slick) vs. The Killer Bees (w/"Hacksaw" Jim Duggan)
Wait, when the hell did Slick acquire the contracts for Volkoff and Sheik? Slick is hilariously still wearing the tattered clothes that Tito Santana tried to rip off him in a fit of "Latin temper," according to Jesse Ventura (RACISM NOTE). Man, three years in and Nikolai & Sheik are still a tag team. I'm only watching one WWF show from each year here, but i'm already tired of this team. Time to move on, guys. Nikolai's tuneful rendition of the Soviet National Anthem, however, never gets old. As he croons for the booing throngs, "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan storms the ring and interrupts the anthem with his trusty 2x4, which has a dainty little American flag affixed to it. He apparently has sworn that Volkoff will never again sing the Soviet anthem while he's around. How about North Korea's? Is that ok? France's? Japan's? Throw us a bone, here, Hacksaw. Melting pot. We're a melting pot. "Volkoff, understand one thing--you're not singing that national anthem, because this is the land of the free and the home of the brave!!" ...Where we're afraid of another country's anthem and will forcibly limit your ability to sing it!
Remember when a tag team would exist for years without coming within sniffing distance of a tag team title reign, instead of breaking up in about 9 months' time? Well, if you don't, i submit to you the Killer Bees, who wrestled as a tag team in the WWF for years with nary a gold strap to show for it. Anyway, not much to report here, as both teams go back and forth in a pretty rudimentary tag team match, complete with the hot tag from the babyface tag team that's been beat down, only to have the referee's back turned when the tag was made, so he has to disallow it. The finish comes while Hacksaw chases Volkoff around the ring while the Sheik slaps the Camel Clutch on Jim Brunzell. Volkoff runs into the ring, Hacksaw gives chase, stops when he sees the Camel Clutch on Brunzell, practically looks at the crowd and shrugs before bashing Sheik with his 2x4, earning the bad guys a disqualification victory. The Killer Bees don't seem very broken up about this, though, seemingly thanking Hacksaw for saving Brunzell from the submission move. See, this is why they never won the tag titles: they'd rather someone bail them out from a submission move than try to break it themselves. What a pair of wimps. Jesse's on my side, explaining that the Bees should be pissed because they lost a chance to win a match and now have to take home "loser's money." Man, i miss the days when the WWF tried to make wins and losses mean something.
Hacksaw yells something about not playing by the rules since Volkoff and the Sheik never do, and it's all just a bunch of nonsensical bullshit that leads to a "USA" chant, and who gives a shit. God, i hate Hacksaw Jim Duggan.
Winners: Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff by DQ in 5:44
Well, now it's time for the most hyped WrestleMania main event in history--Hogan vs. Andre. After one more interview with Heenan & Andre, we get a video package starting from Hogan's title win over the Sheik in 1984, showing that Andre was the first to congratulate him, to various matches where the two bailed each other out from double teams and other sundry attacks. Then we get the leadup to Andre challenging Hogan on Piper's Pit, and come on--this is good stuff. To have people saying for three years that Hogan's only champ because he's never wrestled Andre (assuming they actually said that), to then have Andre turning heel and throwing down the gauntlet, guided/brainwashed by the most hated manager in the WWF...that's just killer stuff. One would worry that the hype could threaten to overshadow the match itself. Hell, the WWF were hoping and praying it would.
Howard Finkel announces our guest ring announcer, Bob Uecker, and Jesse sagely points out that this is the best seat for a sporting event that Uecker's ever had. Ueck introduces the guest timekeeper, Mary Hart (no relation), and Jesse goes on about how his phone is always ringing from Hart trying to get in his pants or something. Mary checks out the turnbuckle corners, sees they're up to snuff, and now it's time to announce the main event.
HUGE boos as Andre and Heenan are carted to the ring. This match is scheduled for one fall, with a one hour time limit, but you're not fooling anybody, WWF. Andre gets into the ring and Jesse recites his measurements, delivering the tale of the tape for some reason. He does the same with Hulk Hogan, as he comes down the aisle to "Real American" and a thunderous ovation from the faithful. Flashbulbs are exploding throughout the Silverdome as Hogan plays to the crowd from inside the ring. Hogan and Andre stand face-to-face, Hogan shaking with the jittery charge of Hulkamania, Andre giving him the coldest of stares, and it's hard not to think that this feels HUGE. Poor referee Joey Marella (son of Gorilla Monsoon) looks like a dwarf in the ring next to these guys.
Right off the bat we get the moment that will keep this feud white-hot through the next year of WWF storylines: after a few punches thrown at Andre, Hogan tries to go for a bodyslam early, and collapses under Andre's weight, leading to the closest of two-counts, as Marella actually slaps the mat for a three before realizing that Hogan had gotten his shoulder up. That non-slam gets replayed for months on WWF TV as a vehicle for the heels to complain that they got jobbed. Meanwhile, in the ring, Hogan is selling a back injury that Andre then exploits with various kicks, slaps, elbows, and other scientific wrestling holds. Jesse theorizes that Hogan may have psyched himself out, and thus the narrative progresses. Andre hits a body slam and Hogan sells it like he's been in a car crash. Another slam, and Andre steps on Hogan's back, which may not be very flashy, but looks fucking debilitating. Andre deliberately whips Hogan into a corner, and he's moving very slowly, either because he's overly confident and playing with Hogan, or (more accurately) because he's overweight even by giant standards and is already winded the fuck out. Hogan mounts a brief comeback after a missed headbutt in the corner, hitting some punches, a few elbows, and ten turnbuckle shots, until he tries to charge Andre in the corner and runs straight into Andre's boot. Andre slaps on a bear hug, and it's NON STOP ACTION TIME.
As i time this bear hug for shits and grins, it's worth noting that Heenan is playing the role of manager to perfection, coaching Andre from ringside, calling shots ("headbutt him!") and asking Andre if he's all right after Hogan's brief flurry. Heenan knows this is his best shot ever to manage a wrestler to the World Title, and he's put all of his eggs in the Andre basket at this point, so his drive to see his investment pay off is palpable. Great stuff from one of the greatest managers ever.
Hogan's arm fails to drop three times, and he starts punching out of the bear hug, which lasted two minues and thirty-eight seconds of thrilling, high-speed action. Hogan mounts another brief comeback and Andre eventually boots Hogan out of the ring and climbs down in pursuit. An attempted headbutt goes awry as Hogan ducks and Andre cracks the ring post where Hogan used to be. The crowd eggs Hogan on as he pulls away the floor mats to "expose that concrete," according to Gorilla. That concrete looks an awful lot like plywood, but that's neither here nor there. Hogan tries for a piledriver on Andre, which is just fucking stupid. Did Andre knock Hogan into a hallucinatory state where he thinks he can drop the Giant on his head? Obviously Hulk gets backdropped onto the plywood, where he sits for a minute and thinks about what an idiotic move that was. Andre picks him up and rolls him back in the ring, and it's time for an Irish whip. Andre misses a boot, and Hogan connects with a clothesline that knocks Andre to the ground! Hogan begins to Hulk up, and Heenan shits his stomach straight into his pants. Hogan hits the bodyslam and Jesse Ventura loses his mind. "HE GOT HIM!" A legdrop and a 1-2-3, and the crowd explodes. Heenan and Andre provide the another great look of dejection in the mini-ring carts as they are led away from the ring.
"What in the fuck just happened?"
Well, let's be honest here--this is not a good match, at all. In all fairness, Hogan and Andre got everything out of what they had, but Hulk's skills are limited to begin with and Andre is years past his prime and bigger than even he should safely be, so there was no way this was ever going to be a technical clinic of scientific wrestling. So, with limited ring skills available for the main event, the WWF tried to at least tell a compelling story in the ring, and they didn't do a *horrible* job, per se. Again, this match is 100% driven by the hype of a supposed 15-year undefeated streak (which was not true in the least--Andre had lost his share of matches in other companies before this) vs. the uninterrupted three-year reign of the largest mainstream star pro wrestling has ever produced. Hogan going for the bodyslam early establishes a back injury storyline that frames every attempted comback until his requisite magical Hulk-up comeback and victory, but at least that's limited to a bodyslam and legdrop. But yeah, while it's emotionally compelling, obviously none of it is technically very good.
Still, WrestleMania III lives on in legend thanks to one near-brilliant match for the Intercontinental Title, and the WWF's excellence in myth-making. This is probably the most-watched WrestleMania ever, and there are valid reasons for this. But yeah, watching these early 'Manias really makes me appreciate some of the four-star matches we'll get in subsequent editions of the WWF/E's flagship event. The next one, unfortunately, is due around WrestleMania VIII, so join me next time for some good ol' Atlantic City snark.